Nerves will be at an all-time high for area wrestlers traveling to Bakersfield for the CIF State championships. Of the nine area wrestlers competing, eight will make their first appearance on the biggest stage California has to offer.
Only Delhi senior Jesse Flores has emerged from the tunnel at Rabobank Arena. The Hawks heavyweight finished seventh at last year’s state meet.
“It’s a big arena,” Golden Valley coach Chopper Mello said. “You go in that tunnel and then come out and it’s pretty big. It’s a different deal. I remember when I wrestled and the tournament was at (Pacific). I was pretty calm and collected, but when my name was announced for the first time it was nerve wracking.
“Mental preparation is a big key. I’ll be talking to my two guys about it on the drive up.”
Joining Flores at the state meet will be Golden Valley’s Caydin Wickard (106 pounds) and Brady Mello (152). Hilmar brothers Justin Rentfro (170) and Cody Rentfro (182) will be there, too.
Pacheco’s Anthony Velasquez (132) will be the first Pacheco boys wrestler competing at the state tournament.
The others making the trip are Buhach Colony’s Juan Rosales (160), Dos Palos’ Chance Benadum (160) and Chowchilla’s Matt Johnston (285).
The two-day tournament begins Friday at 9 a.m.
“I know it’s going to be a nervous experience,” Rosales said. “I have to be mentally prepared. My mentality has got to be strong.”
Dealing with a big crowd isn’t easy. Add what’s at stake when stepping on the mat and the pressure can be too much for some to overcome. Especially when they haven’t been in that environment.
“It’s a lot different,” Chopper Mello said. “The California state tournament is a big thing. You go out and there are 10 mats out there. Even as a coach, it can be nerve wracking.”
There are no easy routes to reach the second day or the medal stand, but many of the local wrestlers are going to face huge tests early.
Rosales opens against Central Section champion Brandon Martino of Clovis, who is ranked No. 2 in the state.
“I have to give it all I’ve got,” Rosales said. “He’s a Masters champion. I know he’s going to be good.”
Cody Rentfro will open up against Fremont’s Taniela Feliciano-Takafua in the first round. A win would likely set up a match against Buchanan’s Anthony Montalvo, who is ranked No. 1 in the state.
Brady Mello may have the toughest draw with a possible first-round match against Poway’s Quentin Hovis, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 152 pounds by Intermat. Hovis won three state championships in Arizona before transferring to Poway for his senior year.
Six of the area wrestlers are seniors. Velasquez (junior), Justin Rentfro (sophomore) and Wickard (freshman) have an opportunity to gain valuable experience for a possible return trip to the state tournament next year.
“It’s huge,” Chopper Mello said. “(Wickard) has three more years. If he can get on the medal stand – and that’s a very high possibility because he’s ranked 10th in the state; he’s beaten some of the guys ranked ahead of him – if he can get a medal, it would be huge for what he wants to accomplish. That kid wants to become a state champion.”
Local state qualifiers
106 – Caydin Wickard, Golden Valley
132 – Anthony Velasquez, Pacheco
152 – Brady Mello, Golden Valley
160 – Juan Rosales, Buhach Colony
160 – Chance Benadum, Dos Palos
170 – Justin Rentfro, Hilmar
182 – Cody Rentfro, Hilmar
285 – Jesse Flores, Delhi
285 – Matthew Johnston, Chowchilla